Purpose: The amount of coronary artery calcification (CAC) is a strong and independent predictor of cardiovascular disease (CVD) events. In clinical practice, CAC is manually identified and automatically quantified in cardiac CT using commercially available software. This is a tedious and time-consuming process in large-scale studies. Therefore, a number of automatic methods that require no interaction and semiautomatic methods that require very limited interaction for the identification of CAC in cardiac CT have been proposed. Thus far, a comparison of their performance has been lacking. The objective of this study was to perform an independent evaluation of (semi)automatic methods for CAC scoring in cardiac CT using a publicly available standardized framework.
Methods: Cardiac CT exams of 72 patients distributed over four CVD risk categories were provided for (semi)automatic CAC scoring. Each exam consisted of a noncontrast-enhanced calcium scoring CT (CSCT) and a corresponding coronary CT angiography (CCTA) scan. The exams were acquired in four different hospitals using state-of-the-art equipment from four major CT scanner vendors. The data were divided into 32 training exams and 40 test exams. A reference standard for CAC in CSCT was defined by consensus of two experts following a clinical protocol. The framework organizers evaluated the performance of (semi)automatic methods on test CSCT scans, per lesion, artery, and patient.
Results: Five (semi)automatic methods were evaluated. Four methods used both CSCT and CCTA to identify CAC, and one method used only CSCT. The evaluated methods correctly detected between 52% and 94% of CAC lesions with positive predictive values between 65% and 96%. Lesions in distal coronary arteries were most commonly missed and aortic calcifications close to the coronary ostia were the most common false positive errors. The majority (between 88% and 98%) of correctly identified CAC lesions were assigned to the correct artery. Linearly weighted Cohen's kappa for patient CVD risk categorization by the evaluated methods ranged from 0.80 to 1.00.
Conclusions: A publicly available standardized framework for the evaluation of (semi)automatic methods for CAC identification in cardiac CT is described. An evaluation of five (semi)automatic methods within this framework shows that automatic per patient CVD risk categorization is feasible. CAC lesions at ambiguous locations such as the coronary ostia remain challenging, but their detection had limited impact on CVD risk determination.